As students returned to full-time, in-person school in September 2021, the team at Vision To Learn was ramped up and ready to resume its services. Founded in 2012 in Los Angeles, Vision To Learn is a non-profit organization that provides free screenings, eye exams and glasses to students in low-income communities to give them every chance to succeed in school and in life. “So many kids fell behind during COVID, and Vision To Learn is really important, now more than ever,” says Angela Bernardo, OD.
The impact of eyeglasses on education and learning was recently analyzed in Eyeglasses for School Kids Boosts Academic Performance, a study published by John Hopkins University study in Sept. 2021. The study, conducted by the Wilmer Eye Institute, found that giving students eyeglasses in school directly impacts their education.
In communities filled with poverty, Dr. Bernardo says that the access to eye care and eyewear is limited. Vision To Learn is dedicated to changing that. The organization screens students at schools to determine the need for additional services, and then the optometrists see the patients who need further testing. The clinic returns after a few weeks to disperse the eyewear with no cost to the parents or school. “If they lose or break their glasses, they get a one-time replacement in the year,” Dr. Bernardo adds. If patients need to be referred out for situations such as a lazy eye, they can bring back the prescription from an outside exam and Vision To Learn will still make the glasses for free.
Vision To Learn’s services were in high demand when it relaunched in September 2021 after pandemic closures. Nationally, the organization has completed 65,000 exams since the start of this current school year with 21,000 of them in California.
EXPLORING A NEW AVENUE
As a nearsighted individual herself, Dr. Bernardo can relate to many of the students she works with through Vision To Learn. “It’s not mandated to get your eyes checked before school,” Dr. Bernardo says. “As a mom, it means a lot to me to help other kids.”
Dr. Bernardo joined the Los Angeles-based team in 2014. She was looking for a change of pace to part-time work after owning her own practice; her children were 5 and 2 at the time. From one day a week, she’s worked up to four days now over the course of the last 7 years. She primarily works with the students in the mobile clinic, and she is now also involved in recruitment and networking for Vision To Learn. “It’s really close to my heart. It’s a different way of practicing optometry but impactful.”
Many interactions over the years remain imprinted in her mind. One little girl in third grade was -11.00D uncorrected. “When she got to the mobile clinic, she was holding on to the wall to get to us,” Dr. Bernardo recalls. “I got off the bus and said, ‘I will drive them to her house, but this girl needs glasses immediately.’” She said students are often misdiagnosed with behavioral issues due to how they act in the classroom, and the reality is that these students often can’t see. “I couldn’t imagine trying to survive in the world as a -11.00D uncorrected.”
A 5-year-old boy was a +9.50D, and Dr. Bernardo knew he would never be able to learn how to read with that vision. A 10-year-old child who couldn’t read the board at school. A sixth grader who was blind in one eye and couldn’t read. “We are making an impact on these kids and closing the gap. They don’t have a shot if they can’t see.”
JOIN THE MISSION
If you want to make an impact on the students in your community, Vision To Learn could be a great fit for you. Hours are flexible from 1-5 days per week during school hours—no regularly scheduled nights or weekends other than occasional special events. Most optometrists work right on the mobile clinic, interacting with the optician and helping to identify the need for eyeglasses.
Vision To Learn is looking to grow its team of optometrists with specific existing needs in Atlanta, Georgia; Riverside and San Diego, California; as well as in the other locations where the organization is already established in California. Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.